Stories from Pentamerone by Basile Giambattista
XXV. The Raven
It is truly a great proverb--"Rather a crooked sight than a crooked judgment"; but it is so difficult to adopt it that the judgment of few men hits the nail on the head. On the contrary, in the sea of human affairs, the greater part are fishers in smooth waters, who catch crabs; and he who thinks to take the most exact measure of the object at which he aims often shoots widest of the mark. The consequence of this is that all are running pell-mell, all toiling in the dark, all thinking crookedly, all acting child's-play, all judging at random, and with a haphazard blow of a foolish resolution bringing upon themselves a bitter repentance; as was the case with the King of Shady-Grove; and you shall hear how it fared with him if you summon me within the circle of modesty with the bell of courtesy, and give me a little attention.
It is said that there was once a king of Shady-Grove named Milluccio, who was so devoted to the chase, that he neglected the needful affairs of his state and household to follow the track of a hare or the flight of a thrush. And he pursued this road so far that chance one day led him to a thicket, which had formed a solid square of earth and trees to prevent the horses of the Sun from breaking through. There, upon a most beautiful marble stone, he found a raven, which had just been killed.
The King, seeing the bright red blood sprinkled upon the white, white marble, heaved a deep sigh and exclaimed, "O heavens! and cannot I have a wife as white and red as this stone, and with hair and eyebrows as black as the feathers of this raven?" And he stood for a while so buried in this thought that he became a counterpart to the stone, and looked like a marble image making love to the other marble. And this unhappy fancy fixing itself in his head, as he searched for it everywhere with the lanthorn of desire, it grew in four seconds from a picktooth to a pole, from a crab-apple to an Indian pumpkin, from barber's embers to a glass furnace, and from a dwarf to a giant; insomuch that he thought of nothing else than the image of that object encrusted in his heart as stone to stone. Wherever he turned his eyes that form was always presented to him which he carried in his breast; and forgetting all besides, he had nothing but that marble in his head; in short, he became in a manner so worn away upon the stone that he was at last as thin as the edge of a penknife; and this marble was a millstone which crushed his life, a slab of porphyry upon which the colours of his days were ground and mixed, a tinder-box which set fire to the brimstone match of his soul, a loadstone which attracted him, and lastly, a rolling-stone which could never rest.
At length his brother Jennariello, seeing him so pale and half-dead, said to him, "My brother, what has happened to you, that you carry grief lodged in your eyes, and despair sitting under the pale banner of your face? What has befallen you? Speak--open your heart to your brother: the smell of charcoal shut up in a chamber poisons people--powder pent up in a mountain blows it into the air; open your lips, therefore, and tell me what is the matter with you; at all events be assured that I would lay down a thousand lives if I could to help you."
Then Milluccio, mingling words and sighs, thanked him for his love, saying that he had no doubt of his affection, but that there was no remedy for his ill, since it sprang from a stone, where he had sown desires without hope of fruit--a stone from which he did not expect a mushroom of content--a stone of Sisyphus, which he bore to the mountain of designs, and when it reached the top rolled over and over to the bottom. At length, however, after a thousand entreaties, Milluccio told his brother all about his love; whereupon Jennariello comforted him as much as he could, and bade him be of good cheer, and not give way to an unhappy passion; for that he was resolved, in order to satisfy him, to go all the world over until he found a woman the counterpart of the stone.
Then instantly fitting out a large ship, filled with merchandise, and dressing himself like a merchant, he sailed for Venice, the wonder of Italy, the receptacle of virtuous men, the great book of the marvels of art and nature; and having procured there a safe-conduct to pass to the Levant, he set sail for Cairo. When he arrived there and entered the city, he saw a man who was carrying a most beautiful falcon, and Jennariello at once purchased it to take to his brother, who was a sportsman. Soon afterwards he met another man with a splendid horse, which he also bought; whereupon he went to an inn to refresh himself after the fatigues he had suffered at sea.
The following morning, when the army of the Star, at the command of the general of the Light, strikes the tents in the camp of the sky and abandons the post, Jennariello set out to wander through the city, having his eyes about him like a lynx, looking at this woman and that, to see whether by chance he could find the likeness to a stone upon a face of flesh. And as he was wandering about at random, turning continually to this side and that, like a thief in fear of the constables, he met a beggar carrying an hospital of plasters and a mountain of rags upon his back, who said to him, "My gallant sir, what makes you so frightened?"
"Have I, forsooth, to tell you my affairs?" answered Jennariello. " Faith I should do well to tell my reason to the constable."
"Softly, my fair youth!" replied the beggar, "for the flesh of man is not sold by weight. If Darius had not told his troubles to a groom he would not have become king of Persia. It will be no great matter, therefore, for you to tell your affairs to a poor beggar, for there is not a twig so slender but it may serve for a toothpick."
When Jennariello heard the poor man talking sensibly and with reason, he told him the cause that had brought him to that country; whereupon the beggar replied, "See now, my son, how necessary it is to make account of every one; for though I am only a heap of rubbish, yet I shall be able to enrich the garden of your hopes. Now listen--under the pretext of begging alms, I will knock at the door of the young and beautiful daughter of a magician; then open your eyes wide, look at her, contemplate her, regard her, measure her from head to foot, for you will find the image of her whom your brother desires." So saying, he knocked at the door of a house close by, and Liviella opening it threw him a piece of bread.
As soon as Jennariello saw her, she seemed to him built after the model which Milluccio had given him; then he gave a good alms to the beggar and sent him away, and going to the inn he dressed himself like a pedlar, carrying in two caskets all the wealth of the world. And thus he walked up and down before Liviella's house crying his wares, until at length she called him, and took a view of the beautiful net-caps, hoods, ribands, gauze, edgings, lace, handkerchiefs, collars, needles, cups of rouge, and head-gear fit for a queen, which he carried. And when she had examined all the things again and again, she told him to show her something else; and Jennariello answered, "My lady, in these caskets I have only cheap and paltry wares; but if you will deign to come to my ship, I will show you things of the other world, for I have there a host of beautiful goods worthy of any great lord."
Liviella, who was full of curiosity, not to belie the nature of her sex, replied, "If my father indeed were not out he would have given me some money."
"Nay, you can come all the better if he is out," replied Jennariello, "for perhaps he might not allow you the pleasure; and I'll promise to show you such splendid things as will make you rave --such necklaces and earrings, such bracelets and sashes, such workmanship in paper--in short I will perfectly astound you."
When Liviella heard all this display of finery she called a gossip of hers to accompany her, and went to the ship. But no sooner had she embarked than Jennariello, whilst keeping her enchanted with the sight of all the beautiful things he had brought, craftily ordered the anchor to be weighed and the sails to be set, so that before Liviella raised her eyes from the wares and saw that she had left the land, they had already gone many miles. When at length she perceived the trick, she began to act Olympia the reverse way; for whereas Olympia bewailed being left upon a rock, Liviella lamented leaving the rocks. But when Jennariello told her who he was, whither he was carrying her, and the good fortune that awaited her, and pictured to her, moreover, Milluccio's beauty, his valour, his virtues, and lastly the love with which he would receive her, he succeeded in pacifying her, and she even prayed the wind to bear her quickly to see the colouring of the design which Jennariello had drawn.
As they were sailing merrily along they heard the waves grumbling beneath the ship; and although they spoke in an undertone, the captain of the ship, who understood in an instant what it meant, cried out, "All hands aboard! for here comes a storm, and Heaven save us!" No sooner had he spoken these words than there came the testimony of a whistling of the wind; and behold the sky was overcast with clouds, and the sea was covered with white-crested waves. And whilst the waves on either side of the ship, curious to know what the others were about, leaped uninvited to the nuptials upon the deck, one man baled them with a bowl into a tub, another drove them off with a pump; and whilst every sailor was hard at work--as it concerned his own safety--one minding the rudder, another hauling the foresail, another the mainsheet, Jennariello ran up to the topmast, to see with a telescope if he could discover any land where they might cast anchor. And lo! whilst he was measuring a hundred miles of distance with two feet of telescope, he saw a dove and its mate come flying up and alight upon the sail-yard. Then the male bird said, "Rucche, rucche!" And his mate answered, "What's the matter, husband, that you are lamenting so?" "This poor Prince," replied the other, "has bought a falcon, which as soon as it shall be in his brother's hands will pick out his eyes; but if he does not take it to him, or if he warns him of the danger, he will turn to marble." And thereupon he began again to cry, "Rucche, rucche!" And his mate said to him, "What, still lamenting! Is there anything new?" "Ay, indeed," answered the male dove, "he has also bought a horse, and the first time his brother rides him the horse will break his neck; but if he does not take it to him, or if he warns him of the danger, he will turn to marble." "Rucche, rucche!" he cried again. "Alas, with all these RUCCHE, RUCCHE," said the female dove, "what's the matter now?" And her mate said, "This man is taking a beautiful wife to his brother; but the first night, as soon as they go to sleep, they will both be devoured by a frightful dragon; yet if he does not take her to him, or if he warns him of the danger, he will turn to marble."
As he spoke, the tempest ceased, and the rage of the sea and the fury of the wind subsided. But a far greater tempest arose in Jennariello's breast, from what he had heard, and more than twenty times he was on the point of throwing all the things into the sea, in order not to carry to his brother the cause of his ruin. But on the other hand he thought of himself, and reflected that charity begins at home; and fearing that, if he did not carry these things to his brother, or if he warned him of the danger, he should turn to marble, he resolved to look rather to the fact than to the possibility, since the shirt was closer to him than the jacket.
When he arrived at Shady-Grove, he found his brother on the shore, awaiting with great joy the return of the ship, which he had seen at a distance. And when he saw that it bore her whom he carried in his heart, and confronting one face with the other perceived that there was not the difference of a hair, his joy was so great that he was almost weighed down under the excessive burden of delight. Then embracing his brother fervently, he said to him, "What falcon is that you are carrying on your fist?" And Jennariello answered, "I have bought it on purpose to give to you." "I see clearly that you love me," replied Milluccio, "since you go about seeking to give me pleasure. Truly, if you had brought me a costly treasure, it could not have given me greater delight than this falcon." And just as he was going to take it in his hand, Jennariello quickly drew a large knife which he carried at his side and cut off its head. At this deed the King stood aghast, and thought his brother mad to have done such a stupid act; but not to interrupt the joy at his arrival, he remained silent. Presently, however, he saw the horse, and on asking his brother whose it was, heard that it was his own. Then he felt a great desire to ride him, and just as he was ordering the stirrup to beheld, Jennariello quickly cut off the horse's legs with his knife. Thereat the King waxed wrath, for his brother seemed to have done it on purpose to vex him, and his choler began to rise. However, he did not think it a right time to show resentment, lest he should poison the pleasure of the bride at first sight, whom he could never gaze upon enough.
When they arrived at the royal palace, he invited all the lords and ladies of the city to a grand feast, at which the hall seemed just like a riding-school full of horses, curveting and prancing, with a number of foals in the form of women. But when the ball was ended, and a great banquet had been despatched, they all retired to rest.
Jennariello, who thought of nothing else than to save his brother's life, hid himself behind the bed of the bridal pair; and as he stood watching to see the dragon come, behold at midnight a fierce dragon entered the chamber, who sent forth flames from his eyes and smoke from his mouth, and who, from the terror he carried in his look, would have been a good agent to sell all the antidotes to fear in the apothecaries' shops. As soon as Jennariello saw the monster, he began to lay about him right and left with a Damascus blade which he had hidden under his cloak; and he struck one blow so furiously that it cut in halves a post of the King's bed, at which noise the King awoke, and the dragon disappeared.
When Milluccio saw the sword in his brother's hand, and the bedpost cut in two, he set up a loud cry, "Help here! hola! help! This traitor of a brother is come to kill me!" Whereupon, hearing the noise, a number of servants who slept in the antechamber came running up, and the King ordered Jennariello to be bound, and sent him the same hour to prison.
The next morning, as soon as the Sun opened his bank to deliver the deposit of light to the Creditor of the Day, the King summoned the council; and when he told them what had passed, confirming the wicked intention shown in killing the falcon and the horse on purpose to vex him, they judged that Jennariello deserved to die. The prayers of Liviella were all unavailing to soften the heart of the King, who said, "You do not love me, wife, for you have more regard for your brother-in-law than for my life. You have seen with your own eyes this dog of an assassin come with a sword that would cut a hair in the air to kill me; and if the bedpost (the column of my life) had not protected me, you would at this moment have been a widow." So saying, he gave orders that justice should take its course.
When Jennariello heard this sentence, and saw himself so ill-rewarded for doing good, he knew not what to think or to do. If he said nothing, bad; if he spoke, worse; and whatever he should do was a fall from the tree into the wolf's mouth. If he remained silent, he should lose his head under an axe; if he spoke, he should end his days in a stone. At length, after various resolutions, he made up his mind to disclose the matter to his brother; and since he must die at all events, he thought it better to tell his brother the truth, and to end his days with the title of an innocent man, than to keep the truth to himself and be sent out of the world as a traitor. So sending word to the King that he had something to say of importance to his state, he was led into his presence, where he first made a long preamble of the love he had always borne him; then he went on to tell of the deception he had practiced on Liviella in order to give him pleasure; and then what he had heard from the doves about the falcon, and how, to avoid being turned to marble, he had brought it him, and without revealing the secret had killed it in order not to see him without eyes.
As he spoke, he felt his legs stiffen and turn to marble. And when he went on to relate the affair of the horse in the same manner, he became visibly stone up to the waist, stiffening miserably-- a thing which at another time he would have paid in ready money, but which now his heart wept at. At last, when he came to the affair of the dragon, he stood like a statue in the middle of the hall, stone from head to foot. When the King saw this, reproaching himself for the error he had committed, and the rash sentence he had passed upon so good and loving a brother, he mourned him more than a year, and every time he thought of him he shed a river of tears.
Meanwhile Liviella gave birth to two sons, who were two of the most beautiful creatures in the world. And after a few months, when the Queen was gone into the country for pleasure, and the father and his two little boys chanced to be standing in the middle of the hall, gazing with tearful eyes on the statue--the memorial of his folly, which had taken from him the flower of men-- behold a stately and venerable old man entered, whose long hair fell upon his shoulders and whose beard covered his breast. And making a reverence to the King, the old man said to him, "What would your Majesty give to have this noble brother return to his former state?" And the King answered, "I would give my kingdom." "Nay," replied the old man, "this is not a thing that requires payment in wealth; but being an affair of life, it must be paid for with as much again of life."
Then the King, partly out of the love he bore Jennariello, and partly from hearing himself reproached with the injury he had done him, answered, "Believe me, my good sir, I would give my own life for his life; and provided that he came out of the stone, I should be content to be enclosed in a stone."
Hearing this the old man said, "Without putting your life to the risk--since it takes so long to rear a man--the blood of these, your two little boys, smeared upon the marble, would suffice to make him instantly come to life." Then the King replied, "Children I may have again, but I have a brother, and another I can never more hop to see." So saying, he made a pitiable sacrifice of two little innocent kids before an idol of stone, and besmearing the statue with their blood, it instantly became alive; whereupon the King embraced his brother, and their joy is not to be told. Then they had these poor little creatures put into a coffin, in order to give them burial with all due honour. But just at that instant the Queen returned home, and the King, bidding his brother hide himself, said to his wife, "What would you give, my heart, to have my brother restored to life?" "I would give this whole kingdom," replied Liviella. And the King answered, "Would you give the blood of your children?" "Nay, not that, indeed," replied the Queen; "for I could not be so cruel as to tear out with my own hands the apple of my eyes." "Alas!" said the King, "in order to see a brother alive, I have killed my own children! for this was the price of Jennariello's life!"
So saying, he showed the Queen the little boys in the coffin; and when she saw this sad spectacle, she cried aloud like one mad, saying, "O my children! you props of my life, joys of my heart, fountains of my blood! Who has painted red the windows of the sun? Who has without a doctor's licence bled the chief vein of my life? Alas, my children, my children! my hope now taken from me, my light now darkened, my joy now poisoned, my support now lost! You are stabbed by the sword, I am pierced by grief; you are drowned in blood, I in tears. Alas that, to give life to an uncle, you have slain your mother! For I am no longer able to weave the thread of my days without you, the fair counterpoises of the loom of my unhappy life. The organ of my voice must be silent, now that its bellows are taken away. O children, children! why do ye not give answer to your mother, who once gave you the blood in your veins, and now weeps it for you from her eyes? But since fate shows me the fountain of my happiness dried up, I will no longer live the sport of fortune in the world, but will go at once to find you again!"
So saying, she ran to a window to throw herself out; but just at that instant her father entered by the same window in a cloud, and called to her, "Stop, Liviella! I have now accomplished what I intended, and killed three birds with one stone. I have revenged myself on Jennariello, who came to my house to rob me of my daughter, by making him stand all these months like a marble statue in a block of stone. I have punished you for your ill-conduct in going away in a ship without my permission, by showing you your two children, your two jewels, killed by their own father. And I have punished the King for the caprice he took into his head, by making him first the judge of his brother, and afterwards the executioner of his children. But as I have wished only to shear and not to flay you, I desire now that all the poison may turn into sweetmeats for you. Therefore, go, take again your children and my grandchildren, who are more beautiful than ever. And you, Milluccio, embrace me. I receive you as my son-in-law and as my son. And I pardon Jennariello his offence, having done all that he did out of love to so excellent a brother."
And as he spoke, the little children came, and the grandfather was never satisfied with embracing and kissing them; and in the midst of the rejoicings Jennariello entered, as a third sharer in them, who, after suffering so many storms of fate, was now swimming in macaroni broth. But notwithstanding all the after pleasures that he enjoyed in life, his past dangers never went from his mind; and he was always thinking on the error his brother had committed, and how careful a man ought to be not to fall into the ditch, since--
"All human judgment is false and perverse."